It is impossible to imagine a better record than this coming from Frederick, Maryland. Impossible. As in, “It’s not going to happen, so if you are a musician who lives in the area, either listen to this thing on repeat or accept the fact that you will most likely not produce something better, let alone as good, as this” kind of impossible. Like, “Put your instruments down and resign yourself to second place” impossible. You know what it is, right? The kind of impossible that makes you want to rethink ever putting pen to paper again. The kind of feeling you notice running through your veins as you listen to something so well done that you don’t even want to think about another record, artist, singer or band? Everyone has felt that at least once, right? Right. So, again: Impossible. Im. Poss. Ible.
“Velvet Raccoon,” the debut album from this city’s Silent Old Mtns., is so far above its surrounding competition that it seems unfair to consider it among its Frederick peers. At 10 songs, the release is as versatile as it is competent, as exciting as it is plaintive. The production is pristine, the performances border perfect and the presentation is like a Pablo Picasso painting: inventive and intellectual. Songs transcend genres enough to create a collection that travels far beyond a mere coming-out party, all but promising an inevitability of accolades in this band’s future, be it in Frederick, Maryland, North America or the planet Earth. Shoot, even if you blasted this thing to Mars, aliens would probably be shouting along to each word Andrew Bromhal whips against the wall with his unforgettably sincere voice.
Actually, such is clearly what fuels this rocket-ship into the stratosphere anyway. Bromhal’s words sting with the aggression of a rabid wolf and stick with the angst of the nerdiest Elvis Costello fan in Paddington. He’s got enough Followill in him to wonder if he might be some kind of distant cousin to any of the kings in Leon and whenever he decides to aim for tenderness, he’s got the tinniest pinch of Chris Martin, easily earning the respect of both indie- and pop-rockers. It’s a combination of angelic proportion, assuring everybody on the ride that this shuttle’s landing spot will be anywhere out of this world.
Need proof? Start with “That Telescope Find,” a five-and-a-half minute pop jingle that is begging to find its way into a car commercial for millions to test drive. The keyboard riff will take up a parking spot in your mind for weeks and not once will you want to punish it with a ticket. Better yet are the anthemic and layered “oh, oh, whoa-ohs” that serve as diesel fuel for such a high-powered track. It’s the faster side of your favorite indie act teeming with the same brand of pop sensibility that Fleet Foxes display with ease. The result is the most extravagant Cadillac on the lot.
More impressive is how believable and affecting Silent Old Mtns. can be when they decide to let off the gas. “Dead All The Time” is tailor-made for modern rock radio and the harmonies that help color it add a fine texture of poignancy to an already-emotive tune. Sprinkle in some well-placed banjo and a memorable bridge and what you have is justification for accompanying this song with an official video (which they did). “Mine To Give” is the only time in the history of local music that the word “epic” is apt. Here, the drama goes to 11, fully equipped with a spoken-word middle section that oddly finds Bromhal sounding like the cooler older brother of The Fray’s Isaac Slade. Miraculously, it works.
Still, these guys are at their best when they pick up the speed and allow their sound to expand beyond the perimeters of pop. “Ash & Bone” has a heavy bass line that keeps the track from faltering into a sea of boring and it contains enough vocal effects to make Max Martin jealous. “You’ve Got Your Sights On Me Now” is a surprising turn toward straight rock that is fuzzed out and amped up, making for an acute sense of aggression behind Bromhal’s shaky voice. Some may claim Pearl Jam, but the true comparison comes in the form of defunct Aussie rockers Powderfinger and 2003’s “Vulture Street.” And “Old Man” is probably how a collaboration between Counting Crows and emo-screamers Brand New would sound if they both decided to grab a beer in 2006, its fast-paced piano evoking the former and the overlapping yells that see the song through to its end suggesting the latter.
But then again, maybe it’s a tiny bit unfair to try and compare Silent Old Mtns. with anybody. Their sound is an amalgam of influences that ultimately creates something strikingly unique to this Frederick rock outfit. Yeah, you could find quibbles within some of these 10 songs — the aroma of looseness peers through the window at times, though it never becomes enough to overtake the smell of the kitchen — but anyone who takes this collection to task is either too jealous or too stupid to ever find the true talent and ability that lies within the majority of this record. In the context of local music, you can’t get much closer to a masterpiece than “Velvet Raccoon.”
After all, it’s impossible to imagine a better record than this coming from Frederick, Maryland, remember. Or, well, at least until Silent Old Mtns. return to the studio for album No. 2, that is.
**** 4 STARS OUT OF 4 ****